For residents of Todd’s Road to Todd’s Station Road, it costs as much as $120 a person to get home from a late night lime because the Public Transport Service Corporation (PTSC) has stopped servicing the area and the few private for higher (PH) vehicles still operating have hiked their prices because of the deplorable condition of the road.
The community, which connects Chaguanas and San Raphael, comprises 501 households, 23 businesses and 1,741 residents, according to the 2011 census, the latest available data.
The serenity and greenery throughout the area is postcard-perfect but to get there, visitors must navigate several dilapidated parts of the road and the journey from Longdenville to Brazil is not recommended for persons prone to motion sickness.
For motorists concerned about wear and tear on their vehicles, taking the highway is a better idea.
However, for residents Shantee Kissoon, Elizabeth Cyrus and Kimberly Thomas, hitch-hiking out of the community and paying, depending on the time of day, as little as $20 a person to get home through the pothole-filled, uneven road is the only option.
When Guardian Media visited last Thursday, Cyrus took time away from watching television to complain about how the lack of a bus service has limited her movements and forced three of her grandchildren to stop attending school.
“Two of the girls does go Carapichaima West Secondary School and is real problems to get money for them to travel to school. Since school open they ain’t go to school because of the (lack of) transport. Is $80 a day for the two of them, so if you have to spend $80 a day for five days, check that out. Where we getting that when we not working anywhere?” Cyrus said.
Five of her nine grandchildren live with her and three of them, all teenagers, are unable to attend school because of the high transportation costs. The youngest, ten, is in Standard Three at Todd’s Road Primary School and Cyrus ensures she attends school every day even if it means she must walk back home after dropping her off.
“Sometimes I come out by the roadside and beg every car that pass for $5 and $10 and make up money for dem grandchildren to go to school and to buy food to put on my table. That is an easy life? That is not an easy life,” she said.
Cyrus, who was celebrating her 15th wedding anniversary on the day Guardian Media visited, recalled digging dirt and carting it in a wheelbarrow to fill potholes along the dilapidated roadway.
She recalled, “This is a main road. I had blocked this road one day, the 8th of November, two years ago. I blocked the road because of the condition. When I block the road, some people wanted to fight me, telling me I don’t have a vehicle, why I blocking the road. I does need a drop to go out the road, so I block the road and when I do it, they come and do this foolishness.”
Cyrus, who turns 61 today, said sometime before the COVID-19 pandemic she and her husband, Robert Serrette, were almost killed when a car ran off the road and landed and on top of them as they slept. At the time, the road was not as bad as it is today.
“If I was not living there (just before the collapsed road), most of the taxis was not bringing me home. People who living past the landslip, the taxis does not want to come and drop them home and the bus stop long time. Life was tough but we used to make out. This is real desperation we have, real problems here,” she said.
An expensive inconvenience
In September 2020, a team that included La Horquetta/Talparo MP Foster Cummings, Longdenville/Talparo councillor Ryan Rampersad and engineers from the ministries of Rural Development and Local Government and Works and Transport passed through the community starting at Todd’s Road and ending at Brazil Village.
They assessed the community’s infrastructural needs and promised to rectify them. At that time, the road depression outside Cyrus’ home did not exist but there were other areas along Todd’s Road and Todd’s Station Road in need of repair.
Calls and messages were sent to Cummings and Works and Transport Minister Rohan Sinanan and their respective public relations officers for comment on the situation. On Friday, Diane Baldeo-Chadeesingh, Cummings’ communications manager, directed Guardian Media to Sinanan who said in an emailed response that the Works Ministry will continue road repairs along the ten kilometre stretch of road in the new year.
“Currently there are six landslips on Todd’s Station Road at the 0.7, 2.8, 3.4, 3.5, 5.1 and 5.8km marks. To date, the Highways Division has undertaken interim shoring works with the aim of maintaining connectivity across the area. Additional works are scheduled under the Programme for Upgrading Roads Efficiency (PURE).”
In another part of the village, Kissoon, a 58-year-old Unemployment Relief Programme (URP) worker, said the bus from Chaguanas to Talparo ran like clockwork when it was introduced about 13 years ago.
“The bus used to run three times a day, morning, lunchtime and evening. Then it come and they stop it and it used to run morning and evening and through the bad road and ting, it can’t pass,” she said.
To get out of the area, Kissoon and other villagers normally hitch rides to Chaguanas or somewhere closer to where taxis usually operate. To get back home before 7 pm, the taxi fare is $20 a person—five times the cost of a $4 bus ticket.
“I is a single parent, my husband died so it does be kinda hard. I working URP, I have my little business here but the place slow. It tough, it really tough for a single parent up here and for those with vehicles it is tough for them as well,” she said.
Kissoon, who sat at the side of her yellow and blue parlour, said with her aging knees, she is unable to walk in and out of the community. Her greatest wish is for the resumption of affordable and reliable transportation.
She said because of the length of time since the road collapsed, residents have grown accustomed to it and no longer make a fuss. However, they still complain, murmur among themselves that the authorities don’t care about their village.
Thomas, 19, learned the hard way, on Wednesday night, the importance of returning home before 7 pm when she was forced to pay $100 in taxi fare—and that was only after begging and eventually wearing down the driver who agreed to take her home.
“I didn’t mind paying that amount because as a female I didn’t want to be travelling late. I had the money at the time too. If I didn’t have it, it would have been different,” she said.
At a meeting of Parliament’s Public Accounts Committee (PAC) in June, PTSC board members said only 79 of 163 routes are being serviced and there are just 160 of the 170 buses in the company’s fleet working when 500 buses are needed to facilitate all the routes.
PTSC vice-chairman Robin Rampersad told the PAC that the bus company is expected to receive the first of three tranches late next year with an overall expected increase to the fleet of 300 buses.
The PAC was told that some of the buses were as old as 18 years, with the newest ones in the fleet acquired between 2018 to 2020.
Todd’s Station Road, an extension of Todd’s Road has the worse of the two areas when comparing bad roads.
A taxi driver and his passenger, who were in the vicinity of Sookdeo Trace, laughed when asked about road conditions.
The passenger, an elderly East Indian man who did not want to be identified, pointed to the dilapidated roads and said, “Yuh see here, here is the best bad road.”
The taxi driver, who also did not want to be named, said the bad roads have damaged cars, but no one seemed to care.
Some 45 kilometres away, in another rural community, Las Lapas, Brasso Seco, residents were also appealing for a regular bus service.
One resident, identified only as Andy, spoke about the difficulties of getting to school.
“You have to get up very early. The bus doesn’t run again. One of my friends, he’s working in Asa Wright right now, thank God. But for CXC, he let me know that he missed most of his exams on the grounds of no transport. It takes away the zeal for a youth man or child to say they are going to school. It seems like a real task. A real hard task,” he said.
Residents said it costs $100 a day in taxi fare for a child in Brasso Seco to attend school.
The Ministry of Education estimated that between 2020 and 2022, at least 151 primary school and 2,663 secondary school students dropped out of school for varying reasons, including lack of access.